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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/17/17

A Better Human Story #4-- Humankind's Perilous Step into Terra Incognita: The Rise of Civilization

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Second, there's the idea that the person making the claim is just too implausible a claimant for that sort of thing to be worth checking it out. Perhaps if the claimant were some semi-illiterate high-school drop-out from an uneducated family in a cultural backwater, it would be somewhat understandable -- even if still unjustified -- if people just dismissed the claim as so improbable it must be delusional, without bothering to check it out.

But in fact, as a claimant on such a matter, I looked on paper about as plausible as anyone. If somebody were to come up with a Big Deal idea like this, that person might look like me.

I'm trying here to honor a vow I've made to do my very best here in this series to bring in my personal story, and to make my bold claims, only when and how they will serve the altruistic purposes of this series. As this series is about the human story, not about me, I am trying scrupulously not to let my frustrations and disappointments and wounded vanity lead me off that track. To the best of my ability, as I have for almost half a century, I am striving to be the servant of the vision.

So I'll just say a couple of things that will be suggestive of the relevant biographical picture: coming from my family background (with a father who was a brilliant thinker about human systems, and who in an informal sense tutored me from before I could read); and with the education I received (my college education, for example, was at Harvard, where I graduated summa cum laude for doing work akin to this allegedly Big Deal idea ); when The Parable of the Tribes came out, I looked roughly as plausible in making such claims as any other person of my generation.

So the world had no prima facie reason to rule out my claim.

Third, it's not that the book just slipped under the radar. Two weeks after it was published, the New York Times gave it a full-page review in its Sunday edition (the kind of review one would "kill for," the book's publicist said). The University of California Press edition -- beautifully produced, and prominently featured by the press -- sold out. A couple of years later, the Houghton Mifflin paperback was published and sold out. In between, Esquire Magazine made me one of only a couple of intellectual "idea" people they included among the "Men and Women Under Forty Who Are Changing the Nation."

But despite all that. This idea just floats out there-- basically unattended. It has always had its enthusiasts, but it has never having permeated the culture to any but a most marginal extent. My impressions is that among those prominent in the intellectual world, and who deal with the Big Deal ideas of social thought and theory of history, no one has given Schmookler's "parable of the tribes" any thought at all.

This story raises some non-trivial questions about how our intellectual world functions. Though I've thought about those questions for years, and have some ideas, I do not claim to have any really satisfying answer. And, in any event, that is not the point of my telling the story here.

That point is this: with the idea of "the parable of the tribes," and my claims about it, never having been tested and refuted, the obscurity in which this idea remains offers no evidence whatever about the idea's validity or importance.

So with that, let us proceed onward toward that point in the "human story" when our species took a crucial step -- extricating ourselves from the niche in which we had evolved biologically -- and began a whole new phenomenon in the history of life with the rise of civilization.

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SEEING THE RISE OF CIVILIZATION IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION

Once again, the evolutionary perspective is key.

Our understanding of ourselves has long been hampered by the manner in which we see ourselves in time. We tend to look at the emergence of civilization by looking backwards in time from the world we know. But what we need to do is adopt a viewpoint moving forward in time toward the crucial developments of ten millennia ago, to see it as something unprecedented happening in the already-long history of life on earth.

Although it is more than a century and a half since Darwin published his Origin of the Species, old habits of thought die slowly.

Even over the more than half century that I've been watching, the change in perspective -- as slowly as that change has happened -- has been discernible. More and more, thinking people perceive our species as having emerged through the process of the evolution of life on earth.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 
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